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November 18, 2009 2:11 PM   Subscribe

Can I take the formatted hard drive from one computer and stick it in another with a minimum of stress and hassle?

I have an old computer (very early pentium 4, win XP home. maybe seven years old? emachines) that suffered from a variety of small hardware failures before the motherboard went and it died. But, the hard drive in it was pretty new and huge.

My roommate had a less-old computer that suffered a critical hard drive failure but was otherwise in fine shape, if a wee bit outdated (win xp home, pentium 4 with hyperthreading, pre-dual core- maybe 3 years old, but the only original parts were the hard drive and motherboard. fan, power supply, ram, video, and sound cards all replaced. I want to say it's a Presario)

If I take my old hard drive and stick it in his old computer, which ran the same OS, will it be able to work at least well enough to download any necessary drivers? I might be able to get my old system booted, but that's iffy.

I do have a working computer, so I can burn any necessary drivers to cd or dvd, but I would really rather not wipe the original hard drive, it had a lot on it I want to keep.
posted by Kellydamnit to Computers & Internet (21 answers total)
as long as the drives are both the same type (both IDE or both SATA) this should work, and basically exactly like you expect. Windows will bellow and wheeze, but it should get you far enough along to be able to install new drivers and get everything basically functional.

you'll maybe want to grab the data you care about, back it up, and then reformat and reinstall just so Windows is a little happier, but you should be good to go with minimal fuss.

good luck!
posted by radiosilents at 2:16 PM on November 18, 2009

My workplace does this all the time with hardware issues in the old actual box - hard drive to the new box and up and go.
posted by Freedomboy at 2:18 PM on November 18, 2009

XP is picky about chipset drivers - if those two systems use different chipsets, then the install will probably fail to boot. additionally, if it boots OK, XP will notice that it's in a different computer and will probably want you to reactivate it, which may be a hassle - even though both are XP Home, the license key is tied to the specific computer it came with, unless you bought a retail copy of XP Home for that eMachines. you can reinstall XP without having to reformat the drive - just let it move the existing install out of the way or overwrite it - and, though that will probably mean you'll have to reinstall applications, it'd probably be the easiest route. unless that "stuff you want to keep" is applications. I think it'd probably work OK, except for the activation part, which you may (or may not) have issues with.
posted by mrg at 2:23 PM on November 18, 2009

I wouldn't recommend it because it surely isn't a MS-supported or even thought-of situation. Things might crash unexpectedly just when you cannot handle it.

One problem is that you will still have the old drivers installed and some of those are pretty deep embedded into the system. You might be lucky, but it might as well not work and effects of that could only be visible much later.

I suggest you put your HDD in another machine and backup to a borrowed external harddrive. Then reinstall on your HDD with your new computer and transfer the data back.

Additionally this is one of the lessons from which you learn to have a backup of your data. Speaking of which, I have to do one now, too.
posted by oxit at 2:24 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

This could lead to messy results and Windows throwing blue screens at you repeatedly, but you might get it to work eventually. Removing troublemaker devices from device manager in safe mode can help.

But honestly, it might be faster and far less annoying to buy a $15 usb case, put in the hdd and copy your data to your working machine. Then format the drive and set up Windows on the disk in your roommate's computer.
posted by starzero at 2:24 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

the naysayers should not be enough to discourage you, as you would have to work really hard to actually cause harm in this process. your worst case scenario should really be "it won't work", not "OMG OMG the harm you could cause!". i have done it a number of times, and it has gone exactly as you expected.
posted by radiosilents at 2:31 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sorry, just reread your question: if your hard drive is "formatted" as in "empty", no problem. Then however you will need to install some operating system on it before you can download drivers. With hindsight I don't know whether your question is unambiguous.
posted by oxit at 2:34 PM on November 18, 2009

"minimum of stress and hassle" has different meanings for different people. Finding and downloading drivers might be a lot of "stress and hassle" for some people.

Besides issues identified upthread (make sure you're dealing with the same type of drive -- i.e., SATA vs. IDE), I think the biggest question is whether the setup will be stable enough AT THE START for you to get online and download chipset drivers. If you can't get online, you might have to manually download the drivers from another computer, and then try to get the downloaded drivers onto the "new" system via a USB drive or even a burned CD. If you can't get the USB or CD drive recognized by Windows, more "creative" solutions (at greater hassle) may be necessary to get the drivers onto the "new" box.

None of this is impossible for a dedicated geek.

Incidentally, 7 years is a long time for cruft in Windows XP to accumulate. Some people preach "clean installs". Radical hardware configuration changes will only increase the cruft. So YMMV greatly on stability. Short-term, though, it (probably) can't hurt to try.
posted by QuantumMeruit at 2:47 PM on November 18, 2009

Linux live CD, to get around the windows complaining bit?
posted by titanium_geek at 3:07 PM on November 18, 2009

I'm going to throw in another vote for "Get your data off the drive and do a clean Windows install". Or restore from the cd that came with the newer machine, or whatever you need to do.

Whether you get your data by trying to boot the newer machine off of the drive, or put it in an enclosure or another machine is up to you.
posted by owtytrof at 3:26 PM on November 18, 2009

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I would install the drive, then boot from an XP disk and reinstall windows, in-place. This should keep the user accounts, permissions, data, applications, etc. but let XP install the right drivers for the new chassis.
posted by chairface at 3:30 PM on November 18, 2009

When you stick the new drive in, if windows fails to boot, you want to do what's called a 'repair install'. Should work. I've done it. Just don't format the disk during installation.
posted by alexei at 4:35 PM on November 18, 2009

Here's what to do:

First, if the hard drive from the failed computer is still working but just not bootable, you can either use a drive adapter or install it as a second/slave hard drive on a working computer. (If it's the second, both drives have to be sympatico for general installations ie IDE with IDE or SATA with SATA. Unless you have the appropriate extra hardware, which in fact is minimal.

In any case, if it's the above that's no problem. But if not...

Second, if the hard drive is not working—that is you are unable to salvage data—then what's the point of trying to get the case up and running again other than the goods are still good? SO just get another hard drive, re-install XP, and you're up and running again. Voila.

[NOTE: If you do NOT have a copy of XP, just borrow a CD of whatever version it is and load it using that CD. The important detail is the license which is on a sticker on the side. Also: That license will tell you what version of XP it is (Home, Professional, etc).]

Lastly, generally one CANNOT take a hard drive running XP and switch it into another box "just like that". It is a chipset thing, but also it has to be the same version of XP (again, Home, Professional, etc). Plus etc etc. Meaning other things that just cause problems.

This is not to say it cannot be done 100% of the time, and I'd try it just for fun; or that there isn't so esoteric or not-so-estoteric workaround. It probably can be done, and there probably is a workaround. When I have spare time or want to tune out the world for a six hours or so, I do work on stuff like this. At the end of the session, I get experience, I had fun, and if whether it works or not is sort of irrelevant. (I mean, if it works, I feel like THE MAN but my ego or paycheck is not on the line either way...)

One other thing. Sometimes if you put the second hard drive in the computer you want to boot up, and THEN run that XP disc with the correct version of XP (H,P, etc), and run the REPAIR function that is part of the install XP function of the XP install disc [see here]
posted by humannaire at 4:42 PM on November 18, 2009

. <<< [Forgot the period.]
posted by humannaire at 4:43 PM on November 18, 2009

[Here's what I was trying to say at the end there:]

One other thing. Sometimes if you put the second hard drive in the computer you want to boot up, and THEN run that XP disc with the correct version of XP (H,P, etc), and run the REPAIR function that is part of the install XP function of the XP install disc [see here], it IT LETS YOU then this will make the drive work. Fun trick. Again, pretty much just for kicks or paying clients who desperately need their data up. Enjoy!
posted by humannaire at 4:46 PM on November 18, 2009

Humannaire, I think you're making it too complicated. I'll let the OP speak for herself, but the way I read the question was -- both computers have HW problems, and we're not talking about putting multiple hard drives in the same machine (which would be lots of hassle).

Computer A: Good hard drive, rest of hardware is busted
Computer B: Busted hard drive, rest of hardware

So it does not matter what version of XP that Computer B was running. Hard drive from Computer A goes into computer B, which now has NO OTHER hard drives. Assuming no BIOS weirdness (trying to boot into the "wrong" partition), when XP boots, it (should) "see" a bunch of new hardware. The version of XP that was formerly running on Computer B never comes into play.

The way I read things, drive adapters didn't come into play because Computer B, by itself, would not boot. (It "suffered a critical hard drive failure".)
posted by QuantumMeruit at 5:00 PM on November 18, 2009

Stick it in. If it boots.. great! If it doesn't, get an XP install disk, and run the repair option. Wait. Boot into windows. Download a ton windows updates for the next couple of days. That's about it! (Oh, and the cd key thing. If it yells at you, use the key from the roommates box and call Microsoft. Just tell them you've replaced the hard drive and need to reactivate that key. It's OEM, so it won't activate over the internet.)

Please note an install like this will leave a ton of windows cruft lying around. Best option is to back your stuff up and reinstall windows when the drive is in the new machine. A better option is to back your stuff up, delete the windows directory (using a linux live cd) when the drive is in the new machine, and then reinstall windows. That's not a perfect clean, but you don't lose your stuff.

Also, you can buy a new drive, and run your drive as a secondary drive. All your files will be there.
posted by defcom1 at 6:18 PM on November 18, 2009

Sorry to update so late, I was in class.

QuantumMeruit has the right idea with what I'm trying to do.
My vital data was backed up, so no problems there. I do have software and some data I would LIKE to keep on the old drive, but I can live without it if it comes to that. If I can't, oh well, I do a clean install of some OS or another and move on. That I can handle.

I figured XP would "see" the new hardware, I was just wondering if the change in motherboard and processor might be so much that it is unable to boot at all without the drivers already being on there. I could connect the drive to my laptop and somehow drag and drop necessary drivers onto it, but I didn't know if that would be adding an unnecessary step. The old computer was a Presario, so not exactly rare or a custom build, and XP was current as of September or so. I wasn't sure what kind of drivers were already built into the OS without needing to connect to the internet.
posted by Kellydamnit at 6:40 PM on November 18, 2009

What's the worst-case scenario? If it doesn't work, it's not like it will set your house on fire. I say go for it!

I have done several such brain transplants in the past. Some of them worked, and some didn't. No biggie, and an entertaining way to kill a weekend afternoon, if you're so inclined.
posted by ErikaB at 7:10 PM on November 18, 2009

Humannaire, I think you're making it too complicated.

Trust me, that is definitely the case.
posted by humannaire at 8:15 PM on November 18, 2009

If you have everything you need backed up I would suggest reformatting the drive and reinstalling windows. You likly to run into problems if you don't. In the end its faster and less of a headache just to do a fresh install.
posted by Sargas at 11:52 AM on November 19, 2009

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